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Failing often a success story

I excel at failure. Always have. Always will.

In my experience, it’s the most dependable path to getting the most out of life.

And, lucky for me, just as I have entered semi-retirement, a whole new arena for failure has opened up in front of me: The slick sheet of ice at Springfield’s NTPRD Chiller.

I had spared both ice skating and hockey from my incompetence for about 40 years before I stepped on the ice again in December. I was part way through my first skate when I began in earnest to work on the first important lesson: How to get up.

I hate to brag, but falling down is kind of a natural talent for me.

I was so bad the first time in my first pickup game, some of the others must have wondered whether I mistakenly thought a person could be a puck. On the other hand, I got so many good looks at the rink’s flat ceiling with the metallic looking insulation that I came up with a nickname for the place: The Microwave. (I also excel in failing at marketing.)

Most often for me, multi-tasking actually means multi-failing. And with skates on my feet and a stick in my hand, that meant I learned one of hockey’s fundamental truths for a person of my age and lack of skill level: That the actual function of all that padding is not so much to protect me from the puck, which it does, as it is protect me from the ice. And probably myself.

By the end of that first discouraging pickup game, I got the best marketing idea I had since coming up with the idea for a restaurant chain called Sam and Ella’s. Humiliation: It’s not just a feeling, it’s a lifestyle.

Fortunately, having experienced abject failure before, I knew what to do. I embraced my incompetence.

In the process, I rediscovered a weak spot in the human race: Other people are willing to offer encouragement, whether it’s warranted or not. The night I did a backwards header on to the ice, a whole group gathered around to see if I was still alive, and one kind soul extended an arm down to help me get up.

He actually seemed genuinely interested in my welfare.

And when a miracle struck and I happened to mistakenly make a decent pass that led to a goal, everyone celebrated as if it were a grandchild speaking a first word.

Then I decided to take lessons in it. If I was this bad, how bad could I get if I really tried? Two things have kept me going: A lack of pride and the odd fact that I enjoy the whole skating and hockey thing.

Looking back on it, those are the same things that kept my newspaper career afloat in its early, wobbly days. Despite struggles and apparent failure, I enjoyed it. Like a kid who loves baseball but can’t really play, I kept showing up every day. After hanging around and getting things wrong, I started getting a little better and occasionally started getting a few things right. I picked up skills here and there and gradually gained enough confidence that I could actually take the time to think about what I was doing.

Probably because coordination is involved, the return to hockey also reminds me of my first attempts at playing the drums after years away from music. Getting hands and feet to move at different times behind the drum set is like trying to learn advanced lessons in rubbing your belly and patting your head at the same time. It’s so darned awkward, I’m thinking I should have worn a helmet while doing that, too.

It’s just as awkward to start skating backwards again, to learn to stop on ice, to skate not just on the blade’s inside but the outside edge, and to do a thousand other things on the rink – all automatically enough so that you gain enough confidence to start thinking out there.

I’m not there yet. And I never will be. There are hundreds of things for me to master the failure of first. But intend to enjoy all of them along the way.

It’s all part of the learning I hope will never stop.

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